Breaking Out Of The Bubble: Richmond’s Museum District

A couple with a toddler picnic on the grass. A school group sporting identical blue t-shirts roams around the far end. A circle of white-haired women play bridge around a bright orange metal table. Two priests chat at a neon green one. A quiet young couple absent-mindedly twirl their hands together on a bench.

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This is much more than a museum; it is these people’s happy place: a place for friends and family, and simply relaxing in the fresh spring weather. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a cluster of buildings that could be considered works of art in their own right, is one of the more notable sites in Richmond’s Museum District. Not only is it open to the public for free, but it also boasts two restaurants: Best Café, a casual option overlooking a reflecting pool, and Amuse, a fine dining, reservations-only restaurant. Olivia Jacobs (‘17) notes, “I love the VMFA, it’s such a nice place to go to.” Students can get access to special exhibitions, programs, events, and discounted food and classes for $10, but the museum’s permanent exhibits and grounds are free of charge. User Han V. mentioned on Yelp that, “The VMFA has a very laid back vibe and it’s a nice environment to enjoy the pieces of work (even though I don’t really “’get’” most of them).”

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Recently, the museum offered a special exhibition of Rodin works, including the well-known “Thinker.” Currently, it is showcasing a photographic series from Thomas R. Schiff, who has taken panoramic shots of a variety of Virginia locations. In reference to his collection, he said, “I always like to go to places people are familiar with and show the perspective from a panoramic camera. The camera distorts everything in the picture – straight lines become curved and it throws off your perspective. It challenges your relationship to what is familiar or thought to be understood.”

While you may be a regular patron of Richmond’s Carytown Shopping Center, there’s a chance you have not explored the surrounding area to its fullest potential. A charming and lively area marked by its diverse demographic and architecture and fittingly, world-class museums, the Museum District is bordered by the Fan and our very own West End. Julia Mitchell (‘17) mentioned that she loves the cultural vibe in the Museum District and Carytown, and that she enjoys seeing a variety of different people. Even one-way streets, an abundance of stop signs, and an unfortunate need to parallel park cannot overshadow the experience that this area offers. Notable eatery locations to visit include Arianna’s, an Italian pizzeria, and Black Hand Coffee Company, a café that roasts its own coffee beans. If you’re venturing into Carytown, try the Korean version of Chipotle, Zzaam, and The Daily, an all-natural neighborhood café (recently reviewed by The Match!).

Credit: Virginia Historical Society Staff

Photo credit: Virginia Historical Society Staff.

Next-door to the VMFA is the Virginia Historical Society, a private research and teaching center that has been deemed the state’s official historical society. It showcases the entire history of the Commonwealth of Virginia through permanent exhibits, special exhibits, and an extensive research library with manuscripts, photographs, and other artifacts. The library and general exhibits are free to the public, and memberships are available for those interested in special exhibitions and other benefits similar to those at the VMFA.

Considering the historical, cultural, and epicurean richness of the Museum District and its surrounding areas, it is clearly a wonderful opportunity for a little foray outside of the West End. Richmond has so much to offer its residents and the arrival of nice spring weather is the perfect time to take advantage of all of it.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Elizabeth Harrison.

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Elizabeth doesn't have her real license yet.